The Aldergrove Kodiaks were a veteran-laden team last season, riding that experience all the way to the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship banner.
The Kodiaks had a phenomenal year last year, finishing second overall in the regular season with a record of 34-6-2-2. They scored a league-high 217 goals and were tops with a goal differential of +99.
They then lost just four games en route to winning the league title.
Just seven players return from that squad, but head coach Brad Rihela is confident the returning core will help guide the Kodiaks rookies, who make up over half the junior B hockey club.
“I think it (championship experience) is going to be a valuable tool for us moving forward,” Rihela said.
“It was just an unbelievable experience for everybody involved and I think that is just going to rub off on the younger players.
“All of our veteran players, I expect them to build off what we did last year and lead these young guys.”
Aldergrove’s top returning scorer is Elvis Jansons and the forward was at nearly a point-per-game production with 18 goals and 33 points in 37 games. Quinncy Leroux should also see a bigger role on offence after 20 points in 25 games.
Another returnee, forward Aaron Markin, will serve as the team’s new captain.
Leading the rookies are Eric Callegari — who suited up in a few games with the team last year as an affiliate — and Will Mann, an American import who comes to Aldergrove from the famed hockey prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota.
“(Eric) is going to step in and be a big contributor,” Rihela said, while adding that Mann is expected to “be a real valuable asset for us.”
In goal, the Kodiaks have Griffin Baillie signed to play, but the second spot is still in flux while the team sees what develops with Tate Sproxton at the junior A level.
Last season, Sproxton was 9-1-1 with a 2.53 goals against average and a .918 save percentage in the back-up role.
And just because the team might have a lot of new faces, that is not to say the coaching staff has low expectations.
“We are going to be a young team (but) we are definitely looking to be as competitive as possible,” Rihela said.
“I am definitely impressed with our young guys and how quick they have picked things up already.”
The coach said the team will use speed and play an uptempo style, just like last season.
“There are going to be mistakes made along the way, but I am excited,” he added.
“I am pretty confident we are going to be just fine.”
The Kodiaks kick off the season tomorrow night (Wednesday) when they host the Abbotsford Pilots. Game time is 7:15 p.m. at the Aldergrove Arena.